WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Thursday to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force that allowed the George W. Bush administration to wage war against Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq.
Most House Democrats joined 11 Republicans and one independent to approve a resolution to approve the repeal amid concerns about escalating tensions with Iran and complaints by members of Congress that the legislative branch has been sidelined by the executive branch in decisions about waging war.
The final tally was 236-166. Virginia’s representatives split on party lines, except for U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Norfolk, who did not vote.
Supporters of the repeal have long portrayed the effort as an attempt to restore Congress’ power. It’s gotten renewed attention after President Donald Trump ordered the killing of a top Iranian general, Qassim Suleimani, who was in Iraq at the time of his death in early January.
“More than 17 years ago, Congress passed a resolution authorizing the equivalent of war with Iraq, a war I opposed then,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Fairfax, said on the House floor Thursday. “It stretches credulity to claim that resolution now extends authorization to the president’s order to assassinate a foreign leader from Iran, yet that is precisely what the White House would have you believe.”
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said “the American people are sick of perpetual war. And if we don’t do everything in our power to make sure this administration cannot plunge us into another war that we don’t want, then we will have let the American people down.”
Several House Republicans made similar arguments, including some staunch allies of President Donald Trump.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a Trump loyalist who endorsed Democrats’ AUMF repeal effort, noted on the House floor that Hussein died more than a decade ago.
“If we are unable to declare victory and bring our troops home at this time, after Saddam is dead, after his regime has evaporated, after ISIS has collapsed, then no war is ever truly winnable, and every authorization is an authorization for a forever war,” Gaetz said on the House floor.
Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers, including Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico, penned an op-ed in The Washington Post supporting the repeal of the 2002 AUMF.
“This authorization has fully outlived its purpose, given the death of Hussein, regime change and the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011, regardless of how one views the merits of that withdrawal,” they wrote.
But the measure adopted Thursday faces opposition from the White House and many Republicans who warn it’ll hinder the executive branch from protecting Americans. Opponents argue that dissolving the AUMF without an adequate substitute it would weaken U.S. national security.
“We should not be repealing current counter-terrorism authorities unless and until we have replaced them with an updated AUMF that clearly allows us to confront the enemies that continue to threaten our nation, our people and our allies,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday ahead of the House vote: “With Votes in the House tomorrow, Democrats want to make it harder for Presidents to defend America, and stand up to, as an example, Iran. Protect our GREAT COUNTRY!”
— Congressman Denver Riggleman (@RepRiggleman) January 30, 2020
The House also voted 228-175 Thursday to approve a separate measure to block funding for military action against Iran. That measure had the support of four House Republicans and one independent. Luria again did not vote.
The White House has threatened to veto both measures.
The House voted earlier this month on another resolution to curtail Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran without first securing congressional approval.
A similar bipartisan resolution has been introduced in the Senate by Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. Kaine said he had 51 votes needed to advance his resolution in the Senate, but the effort has stalled amid the Senate impeachment trial.
Enacting the resolution would likely require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate to override an expected Trump veto, AP reported.